These questions were originally created for English 394: The Victorian Novel from Dickens to Hardy, at the University of British Columbia, Summer Session Two, 1989. They have been augmented with pertinent excerpts from Tillotson's seminal criticism of the early Victorian novel for English 3412 (Victorian Fiction), Lakehead University, January through May 2004. For additional questions click on the "Contexts" icon at the foot of the screen.

Question 16. Part Fourteen: Introductory (pp. 88-91)

Left: Phiz's realisation of the scene in which Nell Trent and her grandfather survey the metropolis from a distance as they strive to escape from Quilp in Dickens's The Old Curiosity Shop: A Rest by the Way; or, Little Nell and Her Grandfather looking back on London (Ch. XV), in Master Humphrey's Clock, no. 14, 172 (11 July 1840). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The widening of the novel's social range carried with it the widening of the geographical range: inevitably a novel about factory workers must be set in an industrial town. And cultivation of both 'low' and middle-class life as material necessitated more variety of setting; one Mayfair mansion, or one country 'place' is very much like another, and each may exist in a vacuum of locality, almost as indefinite [88/89] as the "not . . . anywhere in particular . . . up in a mountain, near a castle" of the historical romance. 1 But in the middle-class we may range from Todger's [in Martin Chuzzlewit] to Princess's Place [plausibly identified as Devonshire palace mews, west London, in Dombey and Son], from Gateshead Hall to Thornfield and Marsh End [in Jane Eyre — places distinctive in themselves and felt as part of a larger locality. . . . . The kind and variety of setting, the way it is described, its function in the novel, were all changing, and novel readers in the forties met with many surprises. In Oliver Twist, Whitechapel first passed from the police reports to the novel. . . . . That the Yorkshire of Wuthering Heights was an unknown country to novel-readers is clear too from the painstaking description of place in the early chapters of Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, and from Charlotte's preface to the second edition of Emily's novel in 1850. . . . . [89]

Such difficulty was guarded against by Mrs. Gaskell when, with her husband's help, she provided glossarial footnotes to Lancashire dialect words in the first edition of Mary Barton. The modicum of dialect in Jane Eyre and Shirley is skilfully managed: it is suggestive without being unintelligible. 2 [90]

With this extension of geographical range there came, besides a closer localization and a more lively regionalism. a further gain that is as much recovery as discovery. The novel's scene might again lay claim to the spaciousness and beauty of the landscape of the Scottish novels of Scott, or to the intimate settings of the irish novels of Maria Edgeworth. The 'genius of place reappears. [91]

Notes, Page 89

1 This is the scene of the burlesque novelette "Sir Anthony Allan-a-dale" in Trollope's Three Clerks, ch. xix.

Notes, Page 90

1 Though Clark said the first volume of Shirley would be "unintelligible to most people, for it is half in French and half in broad Yorkshire" (Fraser's, December 1849, p. 693). Even the midland dialect in Adam Bede was objected to by some (Cross, ch. ix; letter of 23 February 1860).

Question Sixteen: Expanding the Social and Geographical Dimensions of the Novel

What were the advantages and disadvantages for novelists in attempting to expand the geographical and class range of the Victorian novel? Consider dialect, for example.


Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Clarendon, 1955, rpt. 1983.

Created 25 December 2004

Last modified 22 January 2024